As we creep through another month of quarantine, it can be hard to imagine that anyone would intentionally live like this. That someone would say I am alone, and I like it that way. But, in fact, many people throughout history have given up money, power, and fame to willingly live a life of simplicity and isolation. Who would do that!? Jesus chose to do this in his life on earth, once staying alone in the wilderness for forty days. Today, there are actually monasteries full of monks who go for days on end without saying a word to one another, so that they can benefit from isolation. It may sound crazy, but once a year, I join them. I, myself, schedule a week every year at The Abbey Of Gethsemani in Kentucky, welcoming the silence among just such monks, because there’s a powerful restoration that can be found in stripping away the normal noise of life. Even though this period of isolation has been forced upon us, we can benefit from it, too.
So what is the secret to staying sane when life as you know it has been flipped upside down?
Whether you’re crammed in a house full of people feeling busier than ever with no time to think or you’re more lonely and bored than ever, this episode of The Emotionally Healthy Leaders podcast reminded me of these four mental health tips to restore ourselves in this strange time.
Mental Health Tip #1: Pray
Prayer isn’t such a narrow thing as we make it out to be. It isn’t a little nod toward heaven at mealtimes or before turning out the lights. The more you pray, the more you recognize that the person doing the praying customizes the experience. For some of us, learning to pray more now might look like finding a time of silence away from the kids. For me, I need to go for a jog and tell God out loud about all of the emotions I am avoiding (in case you were wondering, He actually wants you to talk to Him about being angry, confused, or scared). This is going to be highly personal, but we need to legitimize the emotions we hate feeling and share them with God. He actually wants to know!
Mental Health Tip #2: Rest
Similar to prayer, rest is really unique to every individual. Things that are draining for me might leave you on an emotional high. I might not give a second thought to things that leave you lying awake at night. The key with rest is that we are able to immerse ourselves in an experience that allows us to completely forget about the concerns or responsibilities that will be waiting for us tomorrow. For some people, that’s as simple as a nap. For others, it might mean driving around for a change of scenery. Some of you might need to reread that favorite book you’ve started to forget about. Here’s a fun one I’m doing based on my older brother’s challenge: start a competition with friends to see who can do the most consecutive push-ups every day. Give yourself permission to indulge in turning off the serious objectives. Spend an entire day every week enjoying life. It’s called a Sabbath, and it will change your quarantine experience.
Mental Health Tip #3: Relationships
We can’t live with ‘em, we can’t live without ‘em. I’m pretty sure that even a monk under a vow of silence has more social game than many of us that are working with right now. Those of us who find it exhausting to get ready and go out with friends in the best of times are starting to realize how much more balanced we feel when we put in the effort and socialize. Even my introverts are texting me back, sometimes. We are all recognizing the deep impact that seeing other faces and sharing experiences have on our souls. It might be easy to feel like a video chat or a socially distant walk in the park (maintain 6 feet of distance, people!) aren’t worth the effort because they aren’t the real thing like the good ol’ days, but I promise you they will do a lot more than a text or even a phone call. We thrive on non-verbal social cues. Seeing a niece or nephew raising their eyebrows ironically can warm your heart. Seeing your BFF burst into unexpected laughter can literally turn your entire day around. Make time for new ways to connect, even if they take getting used to. If you don’t have people, find some here.
Mental Health Tip #4: Work
Let’s face it—we aren’t able to be productive in the ways we used to be. We have to make peace with that. Our paid work is changing and our unpaid work is probably changing drastically as well. If you’re like me at all, you’ve taken on the unfamiliar roles of home educator, housekeeper, or chef. Or perhaps you’ve been laid off or furloughed. As this quarantine drags on, more and more of us are experiencing more work than we can hope to accomplish or work that has dried up altogether. Chances are high that we have not processed the frustrations that come with exercising new or weak work skills. Most of us have a tendency to redirect our work frustration into working harder, when a combination of prayer, rest, and relationship would be the healthier response. It is easy to want to be more capable or more productive to find a sense of stability, but that isn’t going to help you grow. Give yourself grace and take this time to re-evaluate how your work output might be unevenly influencing your sense of confidence in prayer, rest, and relationships.
This is an overwhelming upheaval of all we once felt confident in. Though it is shocking for so much to be stripped away, I find comfort in knowing it can be purposeful. My prayer for each of you is that you are able to find a new balance in the midst of the shake-up. I pray that you would be able to give yourself more grace and legitimize the needs that come with uncharted territory. God wants you to know how deeply He cares for you, and He is leading you to be more honest in accepting yourself as He accepts you. If you need to find work, I pray that you find it. If you need relationships, I pray that healthy ones fall in your lap. I pray that you would have absolute clarity on how to balance the mental health tips of prayer, rest, relationship, and work. I pray that you would find your footing more firmly than ever before in a time of storms.